An out-of-this-world adventure in Utah



    A group of BYU students were spotted in southern utah wearing space suits and driving around Martian-looking soil in ATV?s. These were no space explores but students studying under David Allred, a physics and astronomy professor at BYU.

    Allred is a member of the Mars Society and helped to organize the building of a Mars simulation exhibit that would help decide what resources would need to be invented before someone can go to Mars.

    It is an analog research station in an artic-kind of environment, located in southern utah. He said the Mars Society decided the Utah land looks a lot like Mars to people because it is very red, because of the kind of soil there grows very few plants and because it has an eroded look. BYU is the closest major university to the site and is in charge of a large part of the analog station.

    ?It helps people to understand what challenges and opportunities about questions about the current state of Mars,? Allred said.

    Allred helped a group of about 20 teachers from the Utah Valley region learn new ways to teach science to their students this week by teaching at the 16th annual ?Pathway to Mars? workshop held at BYU.

    The workshop is four days of lectures by guest speakers and hands on activities to show teachers new techniques on how to get their students excited about the subject they teach.

    ?This program is to make science more exciting and math less intimidating,? said John Vanderford, the outreach director at Utah State University and organizer of ?Pathway to Mars.?

    The Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium funds this program and many others like it. According to the official Web site, one important goal among the many objectives of the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium, is to ?assist teachers and curriculae in education and space-related experiences.?

    Vanderford said many students shy away from science and math because they are intimidated or turned off from an early age.

    ?The key to getting students involved and interested is hands-on activities,? Vanderford said. ?Make it exciting and fun.?

    One of the elements of getting the teachers excited about science and math, Vanderford said, is to have good speakers throughout the workshop.

    Allred will teach the teachers the importance of learning about life on Mars to learn more about the origin of the universe, the solar system and the origin of the Earth and Mars.

    ?If Mars has life and it is related to us, that means probably the transferring of matter back and forth meant there was one creation but it had two planets,? Allred Said. ?But if it is very different from us then it means that life is we cant make it happen again but it may not be that uncommon in the universe. It is a very important thing to find out.?

    Allred supports the theory of life on Mars, but not the kind of intelligent life in movies and novels.

    ?There aren?t going to be any inhabitants like in the ?War of the Worlds,? coming down and bothering people,? Allred said. ?Otherwise they would have come here because it?s much easier place to live.?

    ?Scientist and ordinary people have always assumed there would be intelligent life all over the universe and we?ve gradually been disappointed,? Allred said. ?We are realizing all the time that the Earth is more and more special.?

    Bacteria could have survived millions of years in rocks or a spore state, Allred said. In his research, Allred has found bacteria that digest different minerals deep under the Earth. There could also be areas where there is still water and bacterial life deep under the surface of Mars.

    ?But that would take hundreds of years to find, if its deep under Mars, because you have to do drilling on Mars and that may take awhile,? he said.

    Allred said scientists are much closer to going to Mars than most people think. He said the original estimate of a half of a trillion dollars to get to Mars was inflated by mistake. He said it is much cheaper now that we are focusing on using materials already on Mars to get back to Earth.

    ?This would decrease the price a lot,? he said. ?People now estimate between 10 billion and 40 billion dollars to go to Mars. We could probably be to Mars in 15-20 years. But you could probably go faster than that if you were Bill Gates.?

    Allred said a trip to Mars would be the longest trip ever taken. It would take four to six months to get there from Earth and could be quite dangerous.

    ?Safety says stay home, and exploration says go out,? Allred said. ?We have to figure out a way to keep people alive and well while they are doing exploration.?

    Even though it is most like Earth, Allred said there are aspects that make Mars completely inhabitable.

    ?The atmospheric pressure on Mars is what makes it so inhospitable to life now,? Allred said. ?It?s about the same pressure, as you would have at 100 thousand feet above the Earth right now. That is three times as high as Mount Everest.?

    Allred is now working on a project to see if unmanned aerial vehicles could be of assistance to astronauts in exploring Mars. These machines don?t need oxygen and don?t get tired like humans do.

    Lisa Ogle, the Aerospace Education Specialist for Utah and Wyoming, said programs like this are very important for teachers to attend.

    ?This program directly affects the kids because the teachers go back to the classroom more enthused and exited about planets and science,? she said.

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